Conflict in literature

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Common core standards


Related articles


Teaching strategies

Problem solution

Conflict is at the heart of every story. The most basic way to introduce conflict in stories is through problem—solution. Problem solution is an effective way to introduce plot to even very young students


Somebody Wanted But So

The “Somebody—Wanted—But-- So” mnemonic discussed in Inference works well to help students figure out the conflict in the story.


Types of conflict

There is no plot without conflict. Conflict defines the plot. There are (generally) four types of possible conflict:

  • Character vs. Character
  • Character vs. Self
    • This is when a character is having trouble deciding between this or that or a character is struggling with making a decision about something.
    • Jane couldn’t decide whether she should break up with her boyfriend.
  • Character vs. Nature
    • The conflict in this story might be with the weather (like a blizzard or extreme heat) or against natural disaster.
  • Character vs. Society
    • The conflict might be with racism or another society level issue.
  • Some people also teach Character vs. Machine and Character vs. Supernatural as literary conflicts, although they are less common.


Jim Van Pelt argues that a conflict has three parts; “someone wants something, something stands in the way, and something of value is to be gained or lost.” [1]

Graphic organizers


Classroom activities



  • Scholastic Lesson Plan What is the Problem? is a complete lesson plan for middle school. The lesson plan includes a powerpoint, exit slip, links to the story, “On the Sidewalk Bleeding”, and resources on using the story to teach conflict types.



  • Conflicts in Literature from Trinity University is seven separate lessons on conflict in literature. Unfortunately, none of the other materials like articles are included so it is only useful for a general overview of how to set up a unit.

Cyber games and activities

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Quizlet Internal and External Conflict has flashcards with the word definitions and then two games (Scatter and Space Race) that can be played using those definitions.
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Quizlet Conflict has definitions of the different types of conflict in literature and two games (Scatter and Space Race) that can be played with those definitions.
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Quia Internal and External Conflict is pretty dry. Students read a quick passage and decide if internal or external conflict is being shown.


iPad apps

Free worksheets

  • Setting and Conflict is a short worksheet with two passages. One is followed by questions about the setting, the other by questions about the conflict.


  • Virginia Department of Education has a one page middle school worksheet that has students read a brief paragraph and decide what type of conflict is being shown.


  • Scribd Conflict is a generic worksheet/graphic organizer that students could fill out on anything that they are reading.

Videos

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Internal and external conflict hunger games is a really well done slide show (with video clips) that explains internal and external conflict using clips from the Hunger Games.
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Conflict in literature is a nine minute narrated slide show of the different types of conflict. There are video clips (no noise on them) to make it a little less boring.
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5 types of conflict is a 5 minute narrated slide show with lots of pictures and an interesting narrator.
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7 types of conflict is shorter (2 minutes) and has picture only, no narration, which actually makes it less boring. It's a decent intro to the concept.

At home

Helpful links

  • Mosaico Writing 6 Types of Conflict explains six different types of literary conflict with movie examples for each. Most of the movies are R so it’s more of a teacher help than a student help.



  • Lewis k12 has a variety of posters, handouts, and worksheets on conflict in literature for both elementary and middle school.

Product reviews

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